In the lead-up to NXT TakeOver: Respect, we heard all about the historical importance of the main event, a 30-minute “Iron Man” rematch between Women’s Champion Bayley and challenger Sasha Banks. And rightfully so; they were the first women to ever headline a WWE special event, an opportunity earned thanks to their show-stealing bout at TakeOver: Brooklyn and a rivalry that stretches back more than two years.
But we did not hear all that much about the expectations for the match itself – probably because it would be unfair (not to mention impossible) to top the emotional wallop of their Barclays Center battle. After all, how could you surpass the psychological, occasionally brutal in-ring work? Or the moment when Bayley, perpetual underdog, defeated the Boss to win the belt? Or the post-match embrace of NXT’s so-called Four Horsewomen?
Well, we can debate whether or not Bayley and Banks’ rematch was better than Brooklyn, but there’s no denying that the Respect main event at least equaled its predecessor, packing plenty of drama, action and psychology into a heart-pounding 30 minutes that never lagged.
Yes, the start of the match, featuring Full Sail’s requisite “This is awesome” chant – plus “You deserve it” and “Women’s Wrestling” – had the two looking almost shaken. And until the midway point of the match, Bayley and Banks seemed to be pacing themselves. But then, with the match tied at one fall apiece, that the stakes were raised. Sasha went on the offensive, attacking Bayley on the outside, pulling her up the ramp and slamming her into one of the video boards on top of the ramp. She’d scamper back to the ring, while Bayley got counted out. And that’s when this happened:
If you don’t know, that’s Izzy, Bayley’s superfan and a staple at Full Sail events. Over the years, she has essentially become Bayley’s unofficial mascot; her reaction to Bayley winning the belt in Brooklyn went viral, and when the Hugster returned to Full Sail with her championship in tow, she even brought Izzy into the ring to celebrate. But there were no warm-and-fuzzy moments last night. Instead, after her dastardly attack on Bayley, Banks grabbed Izzy’s headband, taunted her in the ring and then chucked her accessory back into the crowd. And that’s when we saw that shot. It was merciless. Not to mention amazing.
It sounds horrible, but Banks’ brilliant heel work brought a little kid to tears, and it was wonderful. It added so much to the match, and that moment was when everyone – even the fans with impossibly high expectations – became fully invested. In a way, it was a reminder of why we love wrestling in the first place, an interaction that’s rare these days, especially in WWE’s current PG incarnation. And it’s what makes Bayley, Banks and everything about NXT Women’s Division so special. Even as the Four Horsewomen make their way up to the main roster, even as they’re putting on solid matches up there, there are no Izzys in the crowd. There are no kids, at least none that we’ve seen on camera, who are bawling over Charlotte winning the title, or Team B.A.D doing something dastardly to win. At least not yet.
Sasha Banks is pure evil. pic.twitter.com/7cn5N6xKwM
— DTAM (@DeathToAllMarks) October 8, 2015
Of course, had nothing followed that moment, it might have been little more than a footnote. But the match took off from there, building up until a frenzied final two minutes. With time winding down, and both women having picked up two falls each, Banks tried to force Bayley to tap out. Bayley would fight her way out of it, and that’s when her aggressive side came out. She hooked Banks into a submission move of her own, and kicked her head until the Boss quit with just seconds left on the clock.
The match was punctuated with the entire roster coming out to applaud both women, acknowledging both the history of what they had accomplished, and the work of Banks, who came into her own at NXT and now appears poised for big things in WWE proper. In a great moment, with the crowd chanting her name, Banks broke into tears, holding a bouquet of flowers (which, we later found out, she gave to Izzy), and it was coach and mentor Sara Del Rey who helped her to her feet. It felt like a perfect end of an era, as the division, and the brand as a whole really heads into a transitional time. Appreciate it, folks, because you definitely just witnessed history.
The Rest of TakeOver: Respect
** A subtext of the Bayley/Sasha match was the departure of Sasha, which raised concerns about the future of the Women’s Division. But those worries were (at least partially) assuaged TakeOver with the debut of Asuka . If there were any questions on whether the former Kana could translate her high-octane, strike-and-submission based offense to an NXT ring, she answered that in her match with Dana Brooke. She showed off her moveset and charisma, and her post-match stare down of Emma was perfect. Asuka’s special, and while I don’t see her in the title picture immediately, she’s going to be a major force in the NXT ranks. And give credit to Brooke, who worked through every reversal and every chain transfer perfectly, and had by far her best performance to date in an NXT ring. If she can continue improving as quickly as she has already, then the division all of a sudden looks a lot deeper than it even did a month ago. This doesn’t even take Nia Jax into consideration, though apparently, she’s finally debuting on TV next week.
** Many expected the semifinals and finals of the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic to feature a lot of storyline development that would set up the next few months of NXT. Instead, we had a series of fairly standard matches before a great moment where the winners, Finn Bálor and Samoa Joe, stood with Dusty’s family as the crowd chanted “Thank You Dusty” and Cody Rhodes told us, “Tonight, we are all Rhodes.” That’s what the tournament was about, and something many of us forgot as we looked for a deeper meaning.
And just because there was no real storyline development doesn’t mean nothing happened. The semifinals match between Baron Corbin and Rhyno and Jason Jordan and Chad Gable was great, and not just because the Full Sail Crowd came up with some extremely creative chants for the Olympian Gable. The power vs. technique dynamic was used to great success here, and putting the hated Corbin against the rising Gable was perfect for the crowd. The finish, featuring Gable trying to counter a lifted move, but getting caught in the End of Days, was tremendous. The two matches that Bálor and Joe won weren’t quite on that level, but both were solid and featured some nice psychology, with Bálor selling a bad knee. And, oh, they got the storyline moving once the show went off the air.
** Apollo Crews continued his run through the NXT roster, this time at the expense of Tyler Breeze. Once again, Prince Pretty put on a very solid match on a TakeOver show, and once again he found himself on the losing end. He’s been a casualty of the talent influx over the past year, still loved by the crowd, and consistently performing, but surpassed by the Bálors , Kevin Owens and Apollo Crews of the world. WWE needs to take a hard look at him and figure something out. There’s still a real chance he could be something special, but they can’t keep him spinning his wheels. Either he needs to find direction in NXT, or they need to find something for him on the main roster.